Arts News: September 2007 Archives
There is always a danger in embarking on a discussion of generations that one will fall into stereotypes. After all, broad generalizations are just that--they describe common traits that apply to many, but never all the people they describe. It's also why I usually embrace labels for myself--because I appreciate the dry humor and delicious irony in how they can lead to assumptions that are totally false.
So it is with some trepidation that I return to an earlier discussion on generational differences. I know that exceptions could be found for everything that I set forth; however, if such concerns were barriers to theory, we'd never be able to have any conversation because we'd spend all day on the disclaimers (something my friends will tell you I'm prone to do anyway).
I was once told that the reason there is so much tension between parent and teenager is because they have conflicting jobs. It is the job of the teenager to become more independent and to pull away from the control and direction of the adults in their life. They're becoming adults and have to find their way. The parent, meanwhile, has the job of continuing to hold on tight while imparting those final life lessons and making sure the child survives his or her boundary testing.
It's that tension that you'll often see among generations as well. The older generation has gained its wisdom by traversing the world and making its mistakes. It would, if it could, spare the next generation its errors. It also wants to protect what it worked so hard to create. Meanwhile, the newer generation is charging off into what it is certain is new ground and grows frustrated at what it perceives to be roadblocks thrown up by those lacking their perspective and enthusiasm.
I recognize that I'm writing from the perspective of one who is pretty enthusiastic about where my generation is headed and who has made the choice to be optimistic and hopeful in the face of plenty of potential evidence to the contrary. I'm a firm believer that hope will always be found in every box that Pandora opens, even as she unleashes newfound horrors and terrors.
So when I wrote about "It's not the product, it's the connection," I was fascinated by some of the responses to mine and the subsequent entries. One of the questions that seemed to be asked in a couple different ways is when and whether Generation X was going to get on board with the proper model and start coughing up money the way the Boomers have.
My gut response was, "Why should we follow that model? Why shouldn't we form our own?"
I do think that you're going to have a much harder time getting Gen X'rs to write checks for organizations that they are involved in only peripherally. I don't think it is necessary for them to have to be a founder of the organization, but they have to believe that they can be involved--that they can be a co-creator today.
There may also start to be a new economic model for developing shows. I experienced a bit of culture shock while in Los Angeles at the NEA Institute when an artistic director shared the price tag for developing a single new show. It was a price tag that would have encompassed the entire annual budget of the thirteen most active groups in Lansing.
Why must the development of a new work carry with it such a high price tag? It's nice when that money is available, but is it really essential?
Let me bring up another Lansing theater company, Icarus Falling (IF). I've had several long conversations and debates with their artistic director. This is a group that consistently puts on brand-new works. Typically two shows every season are new works--one from a company member and the other from an outside playwright who submits his or her script.
The artistic director firmly believes that an artist has no right to demand financing for a work that the marketplace won't support. His group receives no public money and they do very little soliciting for donations. Myself being the good liberal Democrat argues that our tax dollars should support the arts because there is a communal benefit to art that accrues to more than just the art consumer. He feels it is disrespectful and arrogant for an artist to demand support for something that people don't value enough to pay for.
More importantly, he insists that it doesn't take a lot of money to create art and that it is disingenuous to demand it. In fact, he's even gone so far as to say that someone who is truly an artist will find a way to make their art regardless of whether there is money available. What this means for them is that they must plough a far more difficult path and that their actors get paid too little to allow them to give up their day jobs. However, they have shown that they can put up fascinating new work. The work doesn't always go further than their stage, but even that has its own value.
Other scripts are launched into far wider production. This past summer they did a workshop production of Love Person, a new script with a fair amount of technical demands as it mixes American Sign Language, Sanskrit, English, and electronic text messaging. It's a play that will be premiered at Mixed Blood Theater next February. One of their company member's plays, Trunk, was recently performed in Chicago, a few years after IF first staged it.
One of the things that he's said is that if someone has millions of dollars to pour into a production, it damn well better be good, but that you can do a good production without all that money. How do you do it? You rely a lot on donated labor and donated or loaned items. Collaboration becomes the name of the game because you can't simply purchase what you need. You have to find a way to either do it yourself or provide other people with reason to care enough to participate.
It's a frightening thought, but why does art need so much money? The more money that gets poured into a show, the more an organization has to charge for tickets. The more you charge for tickets, the less accessible your art becomes.
Mind, I'm not being completely naïve here. As the wife of an actor, I can say it would be nice if it were possible to make more money in theater. However, I'd rather do with less than to have him not practice his art. We can do without a second car. We can do without a television and the associated cable bills. We can do without new clothes. We can't do without art, regardless of how much or little money is there.
When I look around my community, I see many others who have made the same choice. We have theater and art thriving in small communities around the country because no one is expecting to make millions--or even tens of thousands. Rather, they're concentrating on making enough money to let them make art.
Lansing's mayor declared today "Lansing Symphony Orchestra Day." There was a dedication at City Hall in the morning and ensembles from the orchestra performed in locations throughout the city, including credit unions, the Capitol, the airport, the hospitals, the library, and the law school.
It's a fitting tribute to a professional orchestra that continues to thrive and is well-loved in the community. Last year, their long-time conductor and music director Gustav Meier retired and was replaced by Timothy Muffitt, who is also the music director of the Baton Rouge Symphony. I spoke with him last week about the upcoming season, a season they've dubbed "Feel the Power."
While we spent most of the conversation talking about music and the symphony, we also touched on arts and arts funding. He said something that struck a chord with me because of an earlier entry written here. A month or so ago, I questioned whether art could replace Oldsmobile as a pillar of the economy. I had my doubts--even while knowing that art was vital to the economy and that we have a strong, vibrant arts community here. What he said clarified something in my mind.
Michigan as a state tends to be a progressive group of people. Most people recognize that if we're going to jump start this economy, if we're going to revitalize the economy of Michigan, it has to start with a quality of life. Quality of life has a lot to do with how strong the arts scene is in any given community. When you look at all those lists of the places that are the most attractive life, they all have a great arts scene. I'm not just talking about the Symphony. I'm talking about Boarshead, our galleries, the things happening in the little cafes, the whole picture. For any state and any city to really revitalize itself from an economic perspective, we have to take care of the quality of life, which means a great and well-supported arts scene. Without that, there will be no revitalization of the economy. I think the people of Michigan know that. We do need to translate that support into dollars coming in the door, but I think we're moving in the right direction. I do believe this is a progressive group of people in our state and in our community.
While art isn't likely to be the income generator that Oldsmobile, state government, or education is, it can be the driving force that makes other industries profitable.